- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2019

Almost one year after a lone gunman murdered 17 students and staff at a Florida high school while an armed deputy cowered outside, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel on Friday.

Mr. DeSantis had hinted during his gubernatorial bid last year he would seek Mr. Israel’s removal, and earlier this week the sheriff had reportedly told lawmen and others in his office he expected to be removed.

Sheriff Israel has steadfastly insisted his officers behaved honorably and that cops did what they could when a killer who had several times been identified as a potentially violent person to the FBI and other authorities went on a rampage on Feb. 14, 2018, inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida’s, only public high school.

Gov. DeSantis cited Mr. Israel’s substandard performance that day and during a 2017 shooting at Ft. Lauderdale International Airport in announcing his executive order.

“Sheriff Israel has repeatedly failed and has demonstrated a pattern of poor leadership,” Gov. DeSantis‘ statement read in part. “These incidents demonstrate Sheriff Israel’s repeated incompetence and neglect of duty. The families of the victims deserve accountability.”

Retired Coral Springs Police Sgt. Gregory Tony was named as acting sheriff in Broward County.

At a press conference, Gov. DeSantis was even more scathing in his appraisal of Mr. Israel’s handling.

“Suffice it to say the massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff’s department,” Mr. DeSantis said.

Despite the rebuke, Sheriff Israel vowed to fight the executive order and pursue the matter in the state senate, which has the authority to hear an appeal and make a final ruling on his status.

“There was no wrongdoing on my part. I served the county honorably,” said Mr. Israel, adding that, “For now, it’s on to court.”

He argued that he was being suspended for his political statements in favor of gun control following the shooting, calling his removal a “massive political power grab by the governor to subvert the will of the Broward County voter.”

Mr. DeSantis had hinted during his gubernatorial bid last year he would seek Mr. Israel’s removal, and earlier this week the sheriff had reportedly told lawmen and others in his office he expected to be removed.

Sheriff Israel has steadfastly insisted his officers behaved honorably and that cops did what they could when a killer who had several times been identified as a potentially violent person to the FBI and other authorities went on a rampage on Feb. 14, 2018, inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida’s, only public high school.

But questions about his and his deputies’ performance arose quickly.

Dozens of state lawmakers urged then-Gov. Rick Scott to suspend Sheriff Israel and last April, he suffered a symbolic no-confidence vote from his own deputies. On Friday, the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, Jeff Bell, voiced strong backing of Mr. DeSantis‘ move.

Recent weeks have also been harsh to Mr. Israel’s claims of competence as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission issued a preliminary report that proved blistering in its summation of the sheriff’s actions.

In particular, the report noted that Sheriff Israel had changed the word “shall” in the office’s policy guide for confronting an active shooter to “may.”

That change seemed particularly relevant in the case of former Deputy Scot Peterson, who had been assigned to the school for years but was videotaped on the day of the shooting crouched outside behind concrete walls while the alleged shooter, Nikolas Cruz, reloaded several times and eventually fired more than 140 bullets inside.

The Commission’s recent report scored Mr. Peterson as “derelict in his duty,” while Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was among the victims last February and who became a vocal critic of Mr. Israel, labelled Mr. Peterson, “the coward of Broward,” for his inaction.

“Today proves that Ron DeSantis is a man of his word,” Mr. Pollack said Friday.

Sheriff Israel declined to fire Mr. Peterson, who was instead allowed to retire with a more than $100,000 annual pension plus health benefits. In the face of mounting criticism, Sheriff Israel refused to step down and insisted he would seek re-election in November 2020.

It also emerged this month that Mr. Peterson may have tread lightly when it came to disciplining Sheriff Israel’s son, Brett, when Brett Israel was the quarterback at the high school. In 2014, Brett Israel was accused of a sexual assault at the school, but he was steered into the PROMISE program, an endeavor supported by Sheriff Israel and President Obama that was designed to keep teenager students out of jail, according to a lengthy expose at Real Clear Investigations.

But Mr. Israel’s removal seemed certain after Mr. DeSantis, who promised to act on Sheriff Israel if elected governor, won office last November and was sworn in this week.

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